Antarctica

After boarding the Lindblad Explorer on Monday; our home for the next 10 days, we had dinner and lots of ship safety training. There are 148 paying passengers and I’m quickly meeting them all. Many are married couples in retirement and they have come from all over the world. India, UK, Germany, Canada, Uruguay, and so on are all represented here. There was a last minute cancellation by Ted Danson’s (the actor) first wife and so my roommate was upgraded to her single room; leaving me all to myself in a very nice room with a porthole. Sunset tonight is 9:26 pm.

After dinner (food is great) we went to the mud room to receive our parkas and to bring anything that is in our possession that might have bacteria etc (such as tripods, boots etc) so that it could be thoroughly disinfected..

The seas were very rough as we entered the Drake Passage. I was awakened many times during the night by waves that must have been around 50 feet tall. Thank goodness for my motion sickness patch which worked very well. The only side affect was a very dry mouth.

The captain provided a loudspeaker breakfast announcement at 8:00 am the next morning (Tuesday) and it took everything I could do to get a shower given the vigorous motion of the ship in the waves. We met all the staff who will help us with training and safety and animal and bird watching. Most of them have been to Antarctica numerous times and all were highly educated individuals.

In the afternoon, the professional photographers on board held a training session to help us all get better photographs while exploring.

On Tuesday we finally got into a little calmer waters and saw Elephant island as we passed by on the South Side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The ship is now running over large ice chunks from the glaciers. We don’t detour around them. The Antarctic is definately cooling and ice sheets growing. See article.

Our dinner meal was from a menu. I have tried to spend some time with different people at each opportunity and I’ve met some fascinating, well-travelled people that always have interesting stories to tell.

On Wednesday, some of very well educated individuals held informational sessions for our group. The best ones so far have been held by scientists studying killer whales. The have very successfully tagged whales with GPS devices and they take flesh from each new whale as well for DNA study by shooting them with a crossbow and then pulling out the arrow with a flesh sample. They hope to tag a few on this trip.

Earlier we had a session about the differing penguin species that we’ll see so that we can better identify from the 3-4 species that we will encounter. They coached us to always stay about 15 feet (not less) from the penguin colony and to sit down if possible while taking pictures and studying behavior.

To get to shore we will ride in large rubber dinghies that hold about 10 people each. Unfortunately, we could not go out on this day due to bad weather coming in. The sea was quite dangerous when the captain pulled up and anchored so that we could photograph killer whales following us and doing acrobatics for us. Without speed the stabilizers don’t work.

The weather was prefect the next day and I finally realized a life long dream of being in the Antarctic filming penguins. We landed at Brown Bluff, a picturesque mountain and then after climbing up to near the top of the glacier, we returned to the shore where I sat down on the beach, setup my time lapse camera and waited for the penguins to come to me and they did. They are very curious birds. Back on the ship, we had some interesting lectures in the afternoon. Apparently these scientists believe that the earth was created 4004 years before Christ,

Friday morning I was awakened by the Captain alerting us all that there were about 7 or 8 killer whales off the bow of the ship and that they were hunting two smaller minke whales for breakfast. I immediately dressed and ran out to get some spectacular photos and watched as three of our whale experts took a zodiac out to the killer whales so that they could tack them with a GPS locator. The type one killer whale is not usually in this area which was probably caused by the extreme ice conditions in the Weddell.

The food here is simple but prepared and served in a very appealing manner. I had a beef filet and a fish dish of some kind along with a Swedish salad and other fruits and vegetables. As usual when I’m traveling its hard to avoid foods that are not good for me but I did have two bowls of a nice bean soup. International red wine and other alcohol is available at extra charge. All good.

In the afternoon, I sat into a two-man kayak with another shipmate and we paddled all around the Cierva Cove and after an hour we returned to the ship and then were paced into a zodiac which actually landed on the island. The weather was perfect and we hiked all over the island visiting the many cliffs and hills where the penguins lived; being careful and respectful of the penguins. This was the best day so far.

Just as I thought that nothing could equal what I experienced yesterday, along comes today. I boarded a zodiac with eight other shipmates and we were almost instantly surrounded by humpback whales who paid us zero attention as they were feeding. Our instructor said that two of the whales were a mother and child. They regularly rose to the surface, blew, and then dove, with their tails curled up behind them. We sailed amongst numerous icebergs that had to be large enough to provide fresh water to a city of 10,000 for a year.

We then travelled to Paradise Bay and spent a couple of hours with penguins that had an incredible view of nature while they cared for their young on the hills and mountains. I didn’t realize just how mountainous Anarctica actually is until now. We got to see first hand an avalanche as a large part of a glacier fell into the ocean.

The lectures held just before dinner by some the world’s leading scientists were fascinating and I look forward to these sessions held every day. I spent the evening with the contingent from Australia and New Zealand after enjoying an appetizer and wine courtesy the Captain.

On Sunday morning, after sailing to the Yalbour Islands from the Lemaire Channel, we boarded the Zodiaks and explored the incredible icebergs surrounding the many rocky islands where penguins abound. We saw two different leopard seals hunting for penguins and one came up to our Zodiak and came to the surface on my side and looked straight at me for a moment before diving away. It was an unforgettable experience and made my day.

II now have taken 4,000 photos and much video. It’s going to be fun browsing my way through the albums. I’m storing photos daily on my laptop within iPhoto and making a copy to an external hard drive. My video glasses are great in this Zodiak application.

After returning to the ship our daily lecture was by Ken who is the chief scientist of the ice coring project in Antarctica. They just finished boring down into the ice which has been getting deeper and deeper for 60,000 years at least from what they have found. Snowfalls do not melt here. The ice just keeps getting deeper and deeper.

On Monday we made two zodiac trips to Lockjoy where the British post office s located. The morning excursion was much warmer and included a snow storm which is not good for penguin chicks who do not as yet have feathers to protect them from moisture. The afternoon cruise was very cold due to high winds but was very scenic including much wildlife. It’s our last shoreline excursion and I mailed a postcard home to Sherry from the British Post Office there. We saw lots or penguins and seals and birds.

On Tuesday we stopped at a couple of islands for more penguin and bird watching. There is lots to see everywhere on this peninsula during this time of the year. There was a very cold wind blowing and the penguins and seals seemed to enjoy the weather; even sunbathing on ice.

The next two days we spent returning to Argentina through the Drake Passage and I am very thankful for ear patches and nausea medication; some applied by needle to the rear end. The crew put up ropes down the wide hallways in the public areas so that we could grab something solid as we walked. When we entered the Beagle Channel around Tierra del Fuego the waters calmed quickly and ship life returned to normal. Tonight is the Captains farewell dinner and then we will dock and stay overnight in Ushuaia. The lectures today provided some fascinating information and study about climate change. Whether or not humans have much of an impact is questionable but last time our planet made it through climate change and increasing temperatures in the polar regions; the polar seas were 18 feet higher. The experts now predict a 4F degree rise in average by the year 2100 and an increase in sea levels of three feet.

We arrived in Ushuaia on Wednesday evening and I got off the ship and walked around downtown for an hour or so before returning for our final night on the ship. In the morning we boarded buses to go to the old military prison (now a museum) and to see more of Ushuaia, the City that is the closest to the South Pole and therefore known as “the end of the world”.

We then went to the airport, flew back to Buenos Aires (4 hours) and said goodbye as we went our separate ways. My direct to Dallas flight left at 10:45 pm and arrived in Dallas at 6:30 am (9:30 am Argentina time).

This was my absolute best experience yet. I felt close to nature and God and met many fascinating and knowledgeable people.

They provided us with a 35 minute video documentary of our trip as we left the ship and it can be seen here.

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